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Osius column: Holiday travel at your peril

12:25 a.m.: Just as I reached the airport turnoff after 100 miles of driving, my son texted.

“They’re turning us around.”

No! I could practically look up and see his flight circling above me. It was the Thursday night before Christmas, and my son was flying in during a blizzard, as had his brother days before. I had labored to Grand Junction on deserted highways in unplowed, sloppy, thick snow, my car sometimes drifting onto the rumble strip.



Ted’s flight had been scheduled to come in at 11:30 p.m. Then later, then later…

“So are you going to Denver?” I asked.



“Denver or … [bleeping] Dallas” — from whence his flight had originated.

Should I turn around and go home empty-handed through the storm, arriving at 3 a.m.? I asked if he might, on the ground, be able to reroute to a closer airport, Vail or Aspen. Or would he return here?

“I’ll give you news as soon as I get it,” he wrote, adding, “Phone nearly dead.”

I hunkered down in Grand Junction, and he in Denver, and indeed he flew back to Junction the next afternoon. Five days prior, my younger son, Roy, also coming from the East Coast, had arisen at 4 a.m. to arrive at the Baltimore airport at 6, then waited there for seven hours, eventually arriving at Vail at 10:30 at night. He’d had weather on both ends, traveling an icy interstate in Maryland minutes ahead of a 55-car pileup.

Travel to our Colorado outposts can be stormy and tricky any time, but at the winter holidays, weather and crowds combine and combust. This time last year my sister Meg was at the end of a journey from Vietnam when rerouted from her destination of Aspen to Grand Junction and, sometime after 1 a.m., bused from there. My town of Carbondale is on the way, an hour and 45 minutes from Grand Junction, with Aspen another 45 minutes beyond, but she was conveyed inexorably past, within a mile of the house, the driver not allowed to stop. She arrived at 4 or 5 a.m.

Later that week, my octogenarian mother departed after two full days of trying from two airports, waited out cancellations all evening in Denver, and finally got back to Baltimore at 6 a.m., home at 7. She and my sister both declined my invitation this year.

“You live in the most difficult place to get to in the country,” my mother says.

I’d peg a few other places, maybe, but also remember the Christmas week 10 years ago when a powerful storm and 5-foot drifts stranded 5,000 people at the airport, sleeping on cots and floors, for surreal days.

My friend Sue recently took her father to the airport in Aspen three times before he could get out. Another friend, Mitzi, drove the hour and a half from Glenwood to Junction, then not only had to go home but on to Vail, 45 minutes beyond, to fetch her daughter.

Both of my sons made it here, the younger one, a student, for a month of working and skiing, the older boy for a lesser 10 days, with a return flight rashly set for Junction at 7:40 a.m. New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve he took a bus up to revel in Aspen, saying he’d catch the 2 a.m. bus back down valley. I picked him up at 3.

“I couldn’t sleep,” I told him, as he got off that slow bus, one of many stragglers: girls in drooping tiaras and short skirts in the 17-degree temps; silent bleary boys.

“I knew you wouldn’t,” Ted said, laughing. “Just like when we were teenagers.”

“Where’d you go?”

“Eric’s Bar.”

“Who was there?” I asked, another echo of days of yore.

“Everyone you’d expect to be,” he, too, echoed.

“Ted, it’s 3 in the [bleeping] morning. You’re going to have to give me more than that.”

He coughed up a few names, and then burst out, “I’m so hungry!” He and a girl had bought a pizza, then he’d ducked into the men’s room, but right then she had to run to catch her bus and sailed away with their pizza. “It was Hawaiian,” he mourned. “With pineapple.” He ate leftovers in our kitchen at 3:30 a.m.; and my husband got up at 4:15 to drive him to Grand Junction.

Ted slept the whole trip back to New York.

I texted later:

“Was NYE fun?”

“Very fun.”

“Worth it?”

“Worth it for sure.”

“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of every month. Alison Osius is a climber, skier and magazine editor in Carbondale. Contact her at aosius@bigstonepub.com.


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